Sunday, 4 December 2016

Forever Yung

Anuar Ghani is a lawyer and a veteran of the Sabah 4X4 scene, having been a key player since the Trans Borneo expedition series of the 1980s. He was a founding member of the Kinabalu Four Wheel Drive Club (KFWDC) and has served as its president. This was his eulogy delivered at the wake for his old friend, the legendary Fred Leong, who passed away suddenly on 29th November 2016.

My condolences to Alvin & Tammy, Alex & Cindy, Veronica, Kenneth Jayaraman and family, Patricia Leong, Stella and Tim Brophy, Evelyn Leong and Amir Datuk Arif, Maureen and Frankie Ho , and the rest of Fred Leong’s family.

We have all suffered a great loss, a father, a brother, an uncle, brother-in-law and a good friend.

I never called him Fred. He and I always called each other Yung. We both believed it means "Brother" in the sungai dialect and that was fine with us.

He was one of a kind. What made Fred Leong what he was?

Fred Leong grew up in Keningau. His father was Leong Ten Fook. His mother, Angeline Tann, was apparently very strict with him. I think she instilled a lot of discipline in Fred. "Kalau suruh bikin kerja, mesti bikin punya".

Sometimes Fred would be playing basketball instead of doing the chores and his mother would show up in the middle of a game, a match, and chase Fred off the court with a cane, in front of all the other players and coaches.

I don’t know whether such treatment made him the great man that he is, but it could be an explanation. This probably instilled the work ethic that made him a top journalist in his field. The "go to" guy for everything sports related.

He related the story to Wen, George Irwin's and Salamah's son, when telling him to be tough and not to be afraid of ghosts, or "hantu". Kids today are too soft, he said. He even gave Wen the name “Lisa” to force him to become more manly. And Wen decided he didn’t want to be called Lisa, and is no longer afraid of hantu.

Fred Leong was not so much of a father to his sons, Alvin and Alex. He was more of a friend and a person who gave advice, sometimes, mostly even when unsolicited.

He loved his two boys dearly and understood their strengths and weaknesses. He would talk to me often about them. He wanted his sons to learn from their own mistakes, to gain experiences.

He was very proud of both of you. He wasn’t much of a father. He was a great father. 4x4 has helped create a special bond between sons and father.

Anuar and Saran looking forward to a
large helping of the signature chicken
 rice cooked by Fred Leong at the end
 of Borneo Safari 2016.
Uncle Fred, as he is also known, was Kung-Kung to every little kid from Tawau to Lawas to Kuching. He knew how to make kids laugh, he would tell jokes, tease them, reprimand them when he was in the mood. If you want to know whether someone is genuine or good inside, see how kids respond to them. And every kid loved Uncle Fred.

Keeping his promise to the late Labo, Fred arranged for his daughter Deborah Saran to take part in Borneo Safari this year despite her being underaged. He fought for her inclusion in deference to Labo’s wish. And as usual, Fred got his way.

Talking about his way, he single-handedly created the 4X4 landscape in Sabah.

One day I said, “Fred, you are responsible for the formation of 12 to 14 clubs and associations in Sabah.” He said, “Yeah, why?” I said, “Don’t you think this is divisive?” He said, “Why not, why stop them from having fun? Anyway, not everyone likes to be controlled, let them have their own club".

Through this, and his unceasing and relentless news coverage of 4x4 events and activities in Sabah, Fred created the impetus and momentum that has brought Sabah 4x4 movement to the powerhouse that it is today.

Fred was well-loved everywhere. Sitting in his camp at Lawas, he gets duty-free whisky, sitting in Kuala Penyu, everyone was dropping crates of beers at our camp.

I don’t think Fred was a wealthy man but he was a rich man because he had many, many, many friends everywhere. He was the richest man I know. And what does it take to become a rich man like him?

First and foremost, if you want friends, you must be a friend.
He helped develop the 4X4 scene by helping every aspiring district to form their own club. He would draft their constitution, personally go to the ROS or Sports Commissioner to register or plead their case.

WRS, Tawau, Kota Belud, Tenom, Kota Marudu, Labuan, Sandakan, and many others owe their existence to him. The existence of SFWDA, the Sabah Four Wheel Drive Association, is due to him and Edward Lingkapo. He was also responsible for finding and raising and finding sponsors for the club and association.But  he was still upset that Keningau, his home town, haven’t registered as a club. So Lolou, Atun, Cheng, and Hamid, if you can, do please do so in memory of Fred Leong.

Thompson Teoh, President of  WRS told me how the WRS team got stuck in the jungle for 4 days and nights without food n water and it was uncle Fred who came and rescued and saved them.

I hear similar stories from the time he was involved in football in Sabah. But his true calling was in 4x4.

Fred Leong lived his life to the fullest. He never wanted to go home and would continue chatting away into the wee hours. He loved people.

He was a ladies man. We can only watch in envy and admiration when he comes along with some chick 20-30 years his junior. I think he learned the skill of mastering women because he was the only boy with 5 sisters. So I guessed he learnt early how the female mind works.

Apart from being good  at how to please the ladies, Fred was also a very good cook. His Hainanese Chicken Rice is legendary. At Borneo Safari last year in Kg. Kolorox, we ate his Hainanese Chicken Rice listening to stories of how he lost his virginity at 16 with ... I won't mention who here.

There was an Indian reporter who was enthralled by the stories and asked many, many questions. So, we got the juicy details.  Fred also cooked the best dish I ever tasted in my life at camp Togop Darat when he cooked Pelian in foil with hot river stones. With Fred, you will get lamb, prawns n chicken in the jungle.How he managed that was an art by itself.

Fred could also be very critical and merciless with his criticism. But one thing, what he says behind you, he will say it to your face. He could be direct and brutal, and sometimes petty. Sometimes, listening to him was like listening to a recorder.

But as Paul Si says, Fred has paid his dues, so we can accept his idiosyncrasies.

Among all his friends and achievements, I know one close to his heart are his “Lawas boys”, the Lun Bawang from Lawas. They are his family. He adopted them. George Irwin Leong, Rick Leong, Nelson Leong, Michael Leong, Yung Leong , Pariel Leong and the rest. To him, they were the most capable, most hardworking, most dependable group in the 4X4 community. He was very close to Labo and was working to making the first Labo challenge in Lawas in February 2017. I hope this can still happen. He was so proud of the Lawas boys including Salamah and Wina.

Fred, Yung, You have been taken to a better place. It will never be the same without you. We will all miss you terribly. You were the brother that I wished I had. And I hope that by calling me Yung, I was the younger brother you never had. It was a privilege and an honour to have known you. We all love you,   Yung.

Rest in peace, Yung.